Remembering three lone soldiers

Last Wednesday, dozens gathered in Modi’in’s Titura Synagogue for an evening of remembrance to honor and commemorate the three lone soldiers who died serving their country.

Max Steinberg (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Max Steinberg
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
The concept of a Diaspora Jew making his or her journey to Israel, often on their own, is a common thread in the Israeli narrative.
When lone soldiers Max Steinberg, Jordan Ben-Simon and Sean Carmeli were killed in last summer’s conflict with Gaza, tens of thousands of Israelis attended each of their funerals. Word had spread online of each of the soldiers’ deaths, compelling many to attend their funerals in fear that only a few people would pay tribute to the men who died serving their country, at the expense of leaving their families back at a place they used to call home.
Last Wednesday, dozens gathered in Modi’in’s Titura Synagogue for an evening of remembrance to honor and commemorate the three lone soldiers.
Friends and relatives of the three soldiers shared personal stories with the somber crowd during the memorial. Each speaker had his or her own connection to the lone soldiers; while some were friends and forms of support, others were family.
The speeches, each in their own way, described the efforts of each soldier in the field, spoke of their passion for humankind and shared how important the State of Israel was to them.
Gal and Or Carmeli, Sean’s sisters, made aliya before their brother, and Sean and his parents joined them, moving to Ra’anana when Sean was 16 years old. It wasn’t until Sean joined the IDF that his parents returned to America; the two sisters had looked after their younger brother from that point on.
Gal spoke at the memorial.
Her speech was reminiscent of Sean’s time in Israel before his death; she described her brother’s passion for humanity and Israel.
“A few days before they entered Gaza, when there was still fun in the air, we would speak in a family group chat on WhatsApp,” Gal told the crowd in Hebrew. “Although my generation always knew to be careful of others, to think of the other side, that there are many poor people that are innocent. I wrote in the chat, ‘I hope they won’t send you guys and instead continue to bomb from the air.’ And Sean responded, ‘I don’t understand you. I have to go in or else innocent people will die.’ I think it was amazing that he said that,” Gal recounted.
The soldier was only 21 when an anti-tank missile hit his vehicle in Gaza, killing him and 13 other Golani soldiers.
A friend of Steinberg, Michael Pesin, spoke candidly before the crowd, describing Max’s love for musician Bob Marley and respect for his comrades.
“He came here at 23, and when he served in the army he was the oldest among the soldiers, even the commanders,” Pesin said. “So his experience was different because he felt a little responsible, like the responsible adult.”
Pesin had known Los Angeles native Steinberg prior to his aliya, when Pesin was visiting family in California. When Steinberg reached out to Pesin a short time before he moved to Israel, Pesin gladly offered to help him in his adjustment period between making aliya and getting drafted.
Recalling the funerals of Steinberg and Carmeli, former MK Dov Lipman told the crowd, “I got a phone call from a friend from Haifa to go to Sean’s funeral."
Saying he was amazed at the turnout of around 20,000 people, he added, “The next day I was invited to another and was asked to be in contact with the family. I don’t remember what I said but when we got to Mount Herzl and [the family] saw 35,000 people, they didn’t understand that these people were there for Max.”
None of Ben-Simon’s friends or relatives made it to Wednesday’s memorial, but his spirit was carried on by the embracing audience.
Ben-Simon immigrated from France to Israel at the age of 16, and later enlisted in the army.
Congregation chairman Harel Badichi hailed Ben-Simon’s bravery and devotion to the Jewish state and people; the dedication he demonstrated throughout his service went beyond the call of duty at times, he said. During his training, his commanding officer had to convince him to take leave and visit his parents after not seeing them for over a year. Over 6,000 people paid their respects at his funeral last year, many from Israel’s French community. He was 22 when he was killed.
In spite of the solemn air that permeated the room, the memorial brought color into the lives of a distraught community. Recalling the lives of loved ones who gave their lives to protect their adoptive home provided the Modi’in community with a long needed sense of closure.
Modi’in Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Elharar described his community as having a profound connection with IDF soldiers, as it had hosted similar events in the past and had assisted lone soldiers throughout their journeys.
“We have a community that is very connected to the topic of the soldiers,” Elharar said.
In the spirit of Tisha Be’av, the chief rabbi continued, “On one hand there are wars and then, on the other hand, there’s hope. We’re looking in an optimistic way to find the good and pray to rebuild the Temple with the help of God.”